School counselors play a huge role in helping students get into college. Not only do counselors support students in laying the groundwork for their applications through class selection and extracurricular involvement, but they also provide them with the very important counselor letter of recommendation.
Whether you're writing a letter youreslf or getting one for your application, letter of recommendation examples can help you see why an effective letter is effective. In this guide, we've written 3 strong recommendation letter examples for you to use for inspiration.
What Makes for a Great Letter of Recommendation?
The best counselor recommendation letters illuminate a student's intellectual and personal qualities. They speak to the student's strengths and goals for the future, as well as show how she's grown over her years in high school. While teachers can discuss a student's performance in the classroom, school counselors may focus more on the student's personal strengths and how she's contributed to the school community.
Strong recommendations are focused and highlight the key characteristics of a student. These recommendation letter examples, therefore, focus on a few main themes. The first highlights a student's contribution to her community, the second focuses on a student's special talent, and the third talks about a student's unusual maturity. After each letter, we'll take a closer look at exactly what techniques these letters use to express a strong statement of support.
Letter Example #1: Highlighting Contribution to School Community
Dear Admissions Committee,
It is my pleasure to recommend Noah for admission to your undergraduate program. As his school counselor for the past four years, I have witnessed the exceptional contributions that Noah has made to our school community. Not only is he an excellent and hard-working student, but he has dedicated himself to enriching the lives of students and faculty around him. Noah is truly special for his compassion and commitment to helping others.
Noah has committed himself specifically to bringing mental health awareness to the school. After enduring the tragedy of losing a family member to suicide, Noah devoted himself to bringing greater education about mental health into the curriculum. He said that he wanted to break the stigma around these discussions. Noah found a branch of the Mental Health Foundation's Live Laugh Love Club at the school. Noah has helped bring in speakers to address the school as a whole, held events, and led campaigns about the devastating effects of bullying. While he started out high school on the reticent side, he has since grown to have a powerful voice in our school community, speaking up for what he believes in and proving himself to be an impassioned and inspiring leader.
Noah plans to study psychology in college and would like to work in the field of psychology, social work, or non-profits. His academic accomplishments are especially impressive in AP Psychology and the humanities. Noah's teachers describe him as an insightful, sensitive, perceptive, and diligent student. He has truly proven his resilience and strength through the challenging circumstances in his life. The hardship Noah has faced has motivated him to advocate for mental health awareness as a core aspect of our school's climate and curriculum. Noah's efforts around bullying prevention and social-emotional wellness will continue to nurture our students' well-being long after he's graduated.
Noah has my enthusiastic recommendation. He is a kind, compassionate, intelligent, and strong person who has a clear sense of direction and purpose. I am confident that he will bring the same warmth, support, insight, and hard work to his college classes and social community. Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further information.
This letter has a lot of positive comments about Noah, but it focuses especially on what he's brought to his school community. What features of this letter help it come across as a strong and effective recommendation?
The Break Down
Ms. Easton is clearly enthusiastic about recommending Noah. She uses glowing language, calling him exceptional, truly special, and excellent. She focuses on his compassion for others, and paints a picture of how Noah has made an impressive mark on the school curriculum and culture.
By giving insight into Noah's personal life, she demonstrates his resilience and ability to cope with tragedy in a way that brings awareness and help to others. Noah's counselor also ties in his past achievements to provide a vision of his future contributions on campus, presenting him as a student who will support and nurture others around him.
One of the strongest parts of this letter is that it is focused and all the details connect to paint a portrait of the whole student. Noah is special for his compassion, work with raising awareness around mental health issues, and interest in studying psychology at college. Admissions officers get a sense from this letter of who Noah is, what he's done, and what he'll continue to pursue at college and beyond.
Often recommendation letters might focus on a student's special commitment, skill, or talent. This next example features a student deeply committed to the arts, specifically to acting and singing.
Letter Example #2: Highlighting Special Talent or Skill
Dear Admissions Committee,
I am excited to provide this letter of recommendation for Brett, or should I say Hamlet, John Proctor, or Erik (of Phantom of the Opera lore)? Brett has established himself as a bit of a theater star in these parts, where he's made our fall dramas and spring musicals come to life in his moving and memorable starring roles. Outside of school, Brett is also involved in the local theater group. Brett is an incredible actor with contagious enthusiasm and a passion for storytelling. He has my highest recommendation for admission into your theater program.
For Brett, theater is as essential to his day to day life as breathing. He has been passionate about creating characters and singing his whole life and was involved in school plays throughout middle and high school. He is deeply committed to his craft, having taken acting classes and singing lessons and been involved in local theater groups for most of his life. Brett has an incredible stage presence and equally excels at comedic and dramatic roles. Not only does he give subtle, nuanced performances in which he disappears entirely into his character, he also has an incredible singing voice and is involved in the school chorus. While he is certainly a talented individual, Brett doesn't rest on his natural gifts. He has put in countless hours to improving his craft.
Brett especially excels in his English and history classes, which he says are his favorites for the stories and insights into human nature. He reads widely, which he told me helps him get a more complex sense of people's characters, feelings, and motivations. Outside of the classroom, Brett volunteers with DramaMatters Afterschool at the Boys and Girls Club, working with children to help them express themselves through the arts. He has said that performing has helped him gain a greater understanding of himself and others and build his self-confidence. He loves having the opportunity to bring that experience to the kids he works with. Brett is enthusiastic, fun, sensitive, and driven. He's been a delightful presence both in and out of the classroom.
Everyone here at Lincoln High School, myself included, is excited to see Brett continue to commit himself to the study and performance of theater. While the arts can be a competitive field to make a name in, Brett has the singular commitment, drive, and passion to develop his talents to the utmost. He has my enthusiastic recommendation, and I can't wait to see what dynamic and challenging roles lie in Brett's future.
Like in the first letter, this second example casts a strong vote of support for the student. How does Ms. Pepper choose to present Brett to admissions officers?
The Break Down
This letter presents Brett as a driven, committed, passionate student who's made a big impression in the school community. Ms. Pepper emphasizes that Brett doesn't rest on his laurels and natural talents, but rather is hard-working and committed to improving as a performer, qualities that are likely to impress admissions officers.
She emphasizes his passion for theater, along with his excellence in English and history. By sharing examples of his starring roles and work with the Boys and Girls Club, Ms. Pepper gives a dynamic sense of who Brett is as a student, actor, and volunteer.
With phrases like "excited to provide this recommendation" and "can't wait to see what...lies in his future," Ms. Pepper makes her enthusiasm clear. Above all, she emphasizes Brett's long-term commitment and effort, and states her confidence that he'll continue to strive towards his goals in the future.
This letter stands out for its enthusiastic language, specific examples, and focus on Brett's commitment to theater. It's made more effective because it's customized to the type of program Brett is applying to, a theater program.
While this letter spotlights Brett's special skills, the following example talks about a student's maturity and sophistication for her age.
Letter Example #3: Highlighting Maturity
Dear Admissions Committee,
It is with great pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for the truly exceptional Laila. It is rare to meet a student with as much compassion and self-awareness as Laila. Her resilience, positivity, and humor are especially astounding given the challenges she has overcome in her life. As a refugee of war, Laila's strength of character has not only helped her adapt to a new home, culture, and language, but it also serves as an education and inspiration to others. Given the depth of her experiences and her sophisticated understanding of world events, Laila has an unusual maturity beyond her 17 years.
Laila experienced the violence and upheaval of war in her home country of Syria. Her family lost their business and home before moving to the U.S. with the help of the UN. Her extended family remains in her home country, often off the grid of communication. Throughout these unstable and uncertain times, Laila tirelessly committed herself to her education while balancing part-time jobs to help support her family. She spoke little English upon arriving here in 9th grade, and immediately dedicated herself to studying English and conversing with her peers. Now she is not only fluent, but also a gifted storyteller. She promotes dialogues as president of our school's Arabic Club, and she strongly believes in the power of education to create peace and reduce inequity.
I'm truly amazed with all that Laila has accomplished, and I feel that she is one of our most determined, caring, and balanced students. Her enthusiasm is contagious when you speak with her, as her face lights up when she speaks about her friends, family, education, and ambitions for the future. I've been especially impressed by her fearlessness in making friends and participating in class. Laila speaks with maturity and sophistication about world events and talks about her desire to promote multicultural understanding and peace among all. From the events, including hosting powerful speakers and movie nights, she's organized through Arabic Club to her active participation in her classes, Laila has already contributed a great deal to the school in pursuit of these goals.
The challenges that Laila has faced have truly made her a uniquely strong and courageous individual. Her resilience and optimism have served her well as she has moved between cities and countries, and they will continue to serve her well in college and her future life. Laila has my highest recommendation. I know that she will continually impress you with her involvement in the school community, her international perspective, her unshakeable resilience, and her focus on her academic and career success. I am excited to see how far her educational and professional journey will take her in the future. Please call me if you have any questions.
This letter focuses on Laila's strength of character, capacity to adapt, and mature perspective on the world around her. How does Ms. Wolfe choose to present Laila in her letter of recommendation?
The Break Down
Ms. Wolfe is clearly very impressed with Laila's resilience, adaptability, and sophisticated world view. She shares her personal story to give insight into how astonishing her success has been, in terms of acquiring English quickly, adjusting to a new culture and way of life, and educating others at the school through Arabic Club.
Just as in Noah's letter, it's appropriate for Ms. Wolfe to share Laila's personal story to give insight into who she is and the hardship she has experienced. Also like the other letters, this one uses enthusiastic, glowing language and specific examples to demonstrate Laila's strength of character.
While Laila's story may be somewhat rare, many counselors may focus on a student's unusual maturity for her age. This can be an impressive quality to admissions officers, especially if the student has a strong sense of direction or purpose.
Discussing this also adds a dimension to the student's application that may or may not be present elsewhere. It reveals something important about the student and helps present a fuller version of who she is and what she'll accomplish at college. If a recommendation letter communicates this, then it has done its job.
All of these letters share certain features that make them strong recommendations. Let's review what techniques the writers use, along with any other ones that can make a recommendation letter stand out.
What Makes a Recommendation Letter Stand Out?
Strong recommendation letters sound warm, genuine, and enthusiastic. They state strong support with phrases like "highly recommend" or "it's my pleasure to recommend," like in the examples above.
They tend to have a distilled theme and focus, rather than listing everything about a student. Strong letters also contain examples to back up their assessment, as well as demonstrate that the recommender knows the student well and is qualified to assess her.
If a student is applying to a specific program, major, or selective school, then it can further strengthen the letter to customize it, as in Brett's recommendation for acting school. If you, as the counselor, know something about the program or perhaps attended it yourself, then you could also speak about what a good fit the student would be.
It can be tough for counselors to get to know all their students well, since many work with hundreds of students. To help personalize the recommendation letter, counselors and students should meet, discuss the "brag sheet," and talk about what should go into the letter.
While students may not see the ultimate letter that gets written, they can still have a lot of input by getting to know their counselor and sharing their interests, accomplishments, and goals. Then they can help their counselor write a strong, insightful, and genuine letter for their college applications.
For more on how counselors can write strong recommendations for their students, check out this full detailed guide.
What else do students need to prepare when requesting a letter of recommendation? Read about how to ask for a recommendation letter here.
Are you interested in reading more rec letter examples? Check out these great letters from teachers and bad letters from counselors (coming soon).
Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.